fb - voice of agriculture
August 2002

Fair Time is a Great Time

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

It is fair time in the country. No other event defines a rural community better than the local fair. It is a time to see fellow farmers and talk about the doings of other fellow farmers. It is a time for catching up and reaching out. We gather strength and hope from one another as we share our concerns and our opinions.

As we attend the various county and state fairs throughout this nation, farmers are noticing how many more non-farm people attend the events than in the past. I like to think that they come not only to share in our fun but also to share in the sense of community, to gain energy and to regain the rural appreciation for the traditional family values that have made America so great.

Many Farm Bureaus seize this opportunity to educate visitors and promote our industry and our organization. In fact, every year we sell and produce about 500 exhibit displays to state and county Farm Bureaus that emphasize agriculture's contribution to America, as well as the farmers' pride in America. This year, Farm Bureau people also are distributing a larger-than-normal amount of pamphlets that help explain the "Pledge of Allegiance" to elementary school students. They are especially timely now since a federal court declared the Pledge unconstitutional because of its reference to God.

Contact Members of Congress Now

Now is also the best time of the year to meet and talk with our elected leaders, many of whom will be seen shaking hands at the fairgrounds. Congress is recessed, and members are back home campaigning and visiting with voters. There are some issues crucial to agriculture's and the nation's security that remain undecided. Farm Bureau members should not hesitate to encourage their representative and senators to support our policy goals. Two are of immediate concern, both being hammered out in conference committees.

A proposed new energy bill contains provisions to encourage greater production and use of renewable fuels, made from American crops. Farm Bureau is and has long been a vocal proponent of farm-grown fuels. Farm Bureaus in Iowa and Kansas, for example, hand out coupons offering drivers a discount when they buy 10 gallons of ethanol-flavored fuel. Consumer awareness and acceptance of renewable fuels is growing rapidly. Now, ethanol uses about 6 percent of our annual field corn production. The new legislation would result in nearly doubling the demand.

Biodiesel production, made from soybeans, would also be stimulated. The benefits of a domestically produced fuel supply are clear to all. We import 60 percent of our petroleum supply. Growing our own fuel would lessen our dependence on foreign oil as well as the amount of dollars we pay that end up who knows where.

Another policy area we need congressional support for is granting the President trade promotion authority, as proposed in trade legislation also being discussed in conference. Trade is not a cure-all for our ailing farm economy but it is a cure-some. Look how excited the farm community is over the pittance we are finally selling to Cuba. By the end of the year, they will have bought $100 million worth of U.S. farm commodities. It is a start.

Trade Reforms Move More U.S. Commodities

We need to be a part of global negotiations so that significant trade advances occur. Without this authority for the administration, foreign countries are wary of entering discussions with us if Congress can rewrite any proposal. There are some definite reforms needed in the global trading system that would put U.S. farmers on a more level playing field. Our products face excessive tariffs and we must compete against exorbitant export subsidies. And the current dispute settlement process is too complex and cumbersome, especially for our perishable, import-sensitive commodities. It will be difficult to secure significant improvement if our negotiators are ignored.

Congress has not authorized trade promotion authority since 1994. Since then, more than 130 preferential trade agreements have been made around the world. The U.S. is a party to only two of them. Agriculture needs international trading system reform and the best way to get it is to begin by granting the president this necessary negotiating tool.

Achieving these two policy goals will strengthen rural America and pay a premium much higher than any blue ribbon ever provided.